Gavin Henson has had so many last chances he could have bought himself the saloon.
The latest final shot at re-establishing himself as an international rugby player begins tomorrow night when he makes his debut for Cardiff Blues in a Pro 12 league derby against Newport-Gwent Dragons, and as the shop-soiled celebrity midfielder agreed, there is a strong "now or never" element this time. "I have to make this work," he acknowledged. "I'm not getting any younger, I'm playing for a contract... This is it, really."
Not that Henson will be playing in midfield first up. Dismissed by so many, so often, as a perma-tanned poseur with a hole in his sporting make-up where professional pride should have been, he will be given a chance to impress at full-back. If things work out, he is likely to feature in the Blues' other big seasonal set-to, at Ospreys on New Year's Day. Given Henson's long association with, and difficult departure from, the Swansea-based regional side, there is likely to be a piping hot welcome from the locals at the Liberty Stadium. "As long as people turn up, they can say what they like," he said, grinning broadly.
The 29-year-old has not played a competitive game since busting his wrist during the World Cup warm-up match between Wales and England at the Millennium Stadium in August. Had he survived and thrived that day, he might well have made it to the global gathering in New Zealand. As he did neither he was left scratching around for a club willing to ignore his history at Ospreys – not to mention subsequent stints at Saracens and Toulon, both of which ended in tears – and give him an opportunity to rediscover the best of himself, which is a better "best" than most other players of his generation can offer.
"I nearly snuck into the World Cup squad, but it was probably right that I didn't go in the end," said Henson, admitting once again that he had not done enough justify inclusion. "I'd like to think I'm a good rugby player, though, and I want to be involved with Wales again. I've missed Wales – not just playing for the national team, but everything to do with living in the country. It's my home. It's my call to start again and I'm relieved to be playing this weekend. I'm not good with injury: I've been in some dark places before, but recovering from this one really has been hard. I was a little nervous about coming back a couple of weeks ago, but I'm pretty confident about it now."
On the other side of the Severn, the Rugby Football Union confirmed that John Wells and Mike Ford, the two members of the recently disbanded England coaching team whose future – or lack of it – at Twickenham had yet to be clarified, have severed all links with the red-rose operation. Following the resignations of the manager Martin Johnson and the attack coach Brian Smith in the wake of the World Cup failure and its painful public post mortem, together with the departure of the kicking technician Dave Alred, it was never likely that Wells, the forwards strategist, nor Ford, the defence specialist, would be kept on, although Wells was linked to a possible job with the age-group sides.
Of Johnson's back-room staff, only the scrum expert Graham Rowntree will be involved with England during the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. There has not been a coaching reorganisation on this scale since Sir Clive Woodward starting piecing together a new team in 1997.